Every Friday, I plan to feature a woman who has a talent to share with the world. I would like for you to meet Jennifer Harshman--freelance editor, writer, and writers' coach.
Faten Abdallah (FA): What inspired you to become a writer?
Jennifer Harshman (JH): I started writing stories when I was three years old, just after I'd learned to read, because I realized that a person wrote the storybooks I read and that meant that I could write stories, too. Writing was natural to me. Many good writers did not experience an early epiphany or any kind of ease with writing, however, so people shouldn't be discouraged if they aren't "natural writers," or if they experience writer's block.
FA: How do you avoid writer's block?
JH: Writer's block is usually not caused by a lack of ideas, but too many ideas along with a lack of decisiveness or direction. In between editing clients' books, coaching, and running a homeschooling household, I write a blog post a week, but I have several of my own books in the to-write stack. Part of it is a lack of time—I'm booked solid for 10 months out (for which I am very grateful)—but part of it is indecision, too. Last week I found myself with a spare hour, and a friend suggested I write for myself. I asked which of the eight books I should work on, and I laughed, but it is a serious problem. I ended up taking a much-needed nap, telling myself that within a week I would make a list of the books in the order in which I'm going to write them. (I did it.)
Writers can avoid or break writer's block in many ways, and I wrote about a number of them here http://www.harshmanservices.
com/get-past-writers-block/ and here:
FA: What kinds of things have you written?
JH: I've written a wide variety of things, including poetry, grant proposals, articles, website content, radio commercials, ad copy, blog posts, manuals, and books. So far, the books I've written have all been done as a ghostwriter or under a pseudonym. I have a few books that will come out under my own name, but right now I have a list of books to edit for clients, and I keep my commitments.
FA: Can anyone be a writer? What should a new writer know?
JH: It's so tempting to say that anyone can be a writer, and, with enough commitment to it and with proper help, perhaps it's true. I've seen some writers who were terrible writers, and there's no nice way to pretty-up that fact. I've helped some of those writers improve greatly, and I've helped some book manuscripts go from "Ohmagoodness, this is awful" to five-star reviews. Practice and a good editor and/or writing coach can make all the difference.
A new writer should know that while anyone can be published now (thanks to self-publishing), it is still hard to succeed. It can take years of hard work. There is no guarantee that anyone will buy your books.
Writing is not a one-shot deal. The book, Write.Publish.Repeat. urges writers to write their book, publish it, and get busy on the next one, learning and improving their books as they go along.
A new writer should also know that everywhere she turns, right in front of her eyes will be another "how to succeed at writing" book or course. She'll sign up for one newsletter and then will see a dozen more, and she'll buy one book and then Amazon will get in on the conspiracy to get her to spend more money on learning how to be a successful writer, and it will suggest six more books for her to buy. A dollar here, eight dollars there, or, in the case of courses, $300 here, $2,000 there . . . It won't take long before her spouse or accountant has steam coming out his ears and she realizes that she could buy and consume a thousand of those things and they still won't write her book for her.
FA: Some people think it is not necessary to hire or work with an editor. What's the point of an editor?
JH: Many people think they don't need an editor. This is caused by one of a few things:
- They are extremely egotistical and won't admit that they need something that everyone else needs (a little ego can come in handy when it comes to promoting their work, but too much is a bad thing).
- They think readers are stupid and won't notice that a book hasn't been edited. (Readers are smart, and they notice. Don't try to cheat them.)
- They don't know even the basics, because if they did, they'd know that everyone needs an editor. Everyone. And not just one editor, but often two, because there are two very different types of editing, and it's important to get an editor for each kind.
- They are lying to themselves and others by saying they don't need an editor. This may be because they don't have the money to hire a good editor, or it may be because they are too egotistical.
Why is it so important to hire an editor? Any piece of writing is not ready for publication until after it's been edited (and proofread) at least once. Would you sell any other product to a consumer in an unfinished, unprepared state—a wedding cake without frosting, a home without doors and windows? Then don't do it with your writing.
What if a writer can't afford an editor? Not all editors are expensive, but writers should expect to pay the industry standard rates set forth by the book titled, Writer's Market. Not only should a writer not skip editing, a writer should not have their cousin's neighbor's old-maid aunt who used to be an English teacher "edit" the book for her. With very rare exceptions, English teachers do not make good editors.
The writer should find a good editor, and then work out a deal. Maybe the writer supplies the editor with 72 quarts of organic apple butter and applesauce made from the trees in his yard, in addition to paying half the editor's rate. Maybe a writer makes an arrangement with the editor to make monthly payments until she turns into an old man with a beard. Just about anything would be better than to publish a book without having it edited by a professional first.
Over the years, I've learned that it might take me a while to write something, but that's okay. Sometimes, though, a full book has come pouring out of me over the course of a few days, and I did nothing but write and sleep, and at the end of those few days, I needed to be showered, probably with a garden hose, from a distance.
FA: What have you learned about yourself as a writer and editor?
JH: I've also learned that four of my strengths combine to make me a good editor who keeps clients coming back for more.
1) I have a penchant for taking something that already exists and making it better.
2) Helping people say what they're trying to say comes very easily to me. I don't "take over" an author's book like many editors do. It's still the author's story after I edit it, just better.
3) I have often been the "bridge" between people or groups, and I facilitate connections.
4) Having read 15,764 books now and adding more every day (most people, including editors, read fewer than 1,000 books in their whole lives), I have seen thousands of examples of how it's done, so errors jump out at me.
When I decided to start editing books as a freelance editor, I drew on not only the libraries full of books I'd read, but on my years of experience editing and proofreading hundreds of papers and all of the writing at the places I'd worked. People sense who the good writer is, who the natural editor in the company is; no matter where I worked, people brought to me the things that needed to be written or edited.
I started prospecting by emailing major publishing houses to see if they needed a freelance line editor. While doing that, I felt a sudden urge to visit the chat room on a certain website where I was a member. I thought it was weird, because that website was totally unrelated to anything in the world of writing or editing, and I wasn't one to use chat rooms. Why that, why now? I thought. But I listened and did it. Only one other person was in there, and we said hi and chatted a minute. When I said I had to get back to querying publishing companies as a freelance editor, he said his wife needed an editor for her book. Within minutes, I had met my first client. We emailed back and forth and came to an agreement, and now I do all of her books, and she sends me referrals. That was 2009, and I've never looked back. I now have clients who swear they'll stick with me for life, and I also have a waiting list 10 months long. Every single day—usually multiple times a day—I give thanks for my clients and the business they bring me. Without them, there would be no HarshmanServices.com. It is my honor and privilege to help writers make their writing better, and to encourage them through the whole process. My best wishes, thoughts, and prayers go out for everyone reading this.